Contrary to what you may think, you are not the center of the universe. Sorry to burst your bubble if that’s the case, but it’s true. There are other people just as important as you in this world. Just visualize someone arriving here, ala flux capacitor and a DeLorean time machine, from a time before blogging and tweeting and instant messages and pintresting tidbits of this and that and all points in between. I can imagine this person, after wondering who came up with the word “tweet,” would probably ask themselves: When do these people have time for an actual, honest-to-goodness, real conversation with an actual person standing or seated in front of them?
While our electronic gizmos and doodads have enabled us to communicate to more people than ever, they haven’t necessarily helped us improve on one thing: listening. With so much self-centered content (and not all in a bad way) out there, it seems it’s all “Me! Me! ME! LOOK AT ME!” and not much “Hey, tell me about your day.” What was once discussed over a cup of coffee and a wooden table is now posted and “liked” or commented on at all times during the day. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen two people “engaged” in a “conversation” with both individuals staring at their phone or their tablet communicating with other people. It’s as if they hang out with people to talk to the people who aren’t there about what they’re doing with the people that are there. Fewer and fewer people seem to be able to silence the mobile device or, even more drastic, turn the thing off.
So what to do? How do you change the tide and become a better listener? It’s not as painful as one might think. Here are a few hints to keep in mind.
1. Get rid of the distractions.
That’s right. Turn off the phone. Leave the tablet in another room or pack it away. Grab a relaxing cup of coffee or tea or whatever beverage you associate with leisure time, sit back, and start a conversation.
2. Be there.
Of course you don’t have to physically be in the same location to have a meaningful dialogue. By ‘be there,’ I mean be there MENTALLY. Remove the distractions from the first tip AND the distractions you drag along with you in your head. Make it a point to leave the grocery list or the name of the awesome song you heard that morning in the background. Devote yourself to the exchange at hand.
3. Take your turn.
Remember when your parents stressed this as you grew up? Well, it wasn’t them trying to “oppress” you or “control” you. It really means something in Grown-Up Land to wait for your turn to come around. Interrupting is rude, and it prevents you from hearing the entire story. You’ll be amazed at how much more meaningful a conversation will be if you just be patient. It’s a conversation, not a race.
4. Ask questions.
As I stated in my “Questions” post, asking relevant questions show you are both paying attention AND are interested in what the other person is saying. Be inquisitive and not only learn more, but drive the conversation further.
5. Clarify what the other speaker has said.
There’s no shame in asking for affirmation or in requesting clarification. It shows that you are concerned about ascertaining correctly what the other person has said; it says nothing about a lack of intellect or a lack of comprehension.
Conversation is a two-way street: speaking and listening. It’s a good rule-of-thumb to give the latter the right-of-way at all intersections.